Garage Security Systems

Whether it’s attached to the rest of your home or detached in your backyard, garages and sheds carry treasure troves of tools, equipment, home storage and occasionally, a car. Undoubtedly, you’d like to keep these items safe, away from the hands of thieves looking to make a buck, or opportunistic neighbors who covet your gleaming new pruning shears. Fortunately, security systems come in all shapes and sizes -- and there are versions for all budgets.

Attached Garage Security

Every home and garage is different, but some general rules of security apply. In the case of an attached garage, these rules doubly apply, because if someone can get into your garage, they most likely can get into the rest of your home.

So how can you prevent this from happening? If you already have a whole-home security system installed, your garage should be covered. If you don’t have a home security system, but you’d like to, you have a couple of different options:

  • Professional Installment (hard-wired system): Unless you’re an experienced electrician, you will probably need a professional to install a hard-wired security system. These systems consist of wires that are installed throughout the walls in your home, connecting any combination of doors and window sensors, motion detectors, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and security cameras to a control panel. Companies like FrontPoint and ADT will install all of the components you’d like for your home, charging an installation fee, as well as monthly monitoring fees (which means that if an alarm is tripped, they are notified and can take action). Prices vary widely, so do some research before choosing an installer, and avoid the companies that use scare tactics to try to bully you into buying. According to Consumers’ Checkbook, the cost for installation and three years of monitoring ranges from $2,000 to more than $3,300 for the same job.

  • Do-it-Yourself Installment (wireless system): There are many wireless systems available that you can install yourself. They do the same job as wired systems, but they send signals from each component through a wireless signal instead of wires. While they tend to be cheaper than hard-wired systems, they require more maintenance (changing the batteries, etc.), and there has been some argument that interference from other wireless devices can trigger false alarms. Budgets range widely for DIY wireless systems -- from under $100 for a single video security camera with software to thousands of dollars for multi-cam, multi-monitor systems with night vision, motion detection and real-time web-based monitoring.

  • Create Your Own: See section below.

Detached Garage Security

Since detached garages can’t be wired to the same system as your house (in most cases), it’s best to install a wireless system. You can buy a kit that’s as easy to install as using double-sided tape to attach sensors to door and window frames. Depending on the number of sensors you want, you can buy a system like this for about $85. These kinds of systems usually come with a few window/door sensors, motion detectors and a key fob to disable the system before entering. Most systems will set off a piercing siren that will scare away thieves and notify you that something is amiss.

If you’re looking for something slightly more advanced, you can look at more expensive options like an indoor/outdoor camera with night vision ($250). It really will depend on how much security you want or need, and how much you’re willing to pay. Of course, before you decide on installing a security system, it’s best to make sure basic security measures are taken, like those mentioned below.

Create Your Own Garage Security

Before installing a connected security system with a control panel, take some simple, low-cost measures to deter would-be robbers:

  • Make sure windows and doors are good quality with strong frames and heavy-gauge locks

  • Install motion-sensing floodlights outside the garage, on all sides that have a potential entrance into the building

  • Install cameras outside that are clearly visible (heck, even fake cameras with a blinking light will help deter criminals)

  • Cover up windows with curtains or blinds so no one will know whether the goods inside are valuable or junk

  • Don’t leave your garage door opener in your car

Garage Heaters That Knockout the Cold

“Warm and comfy” probably doesn’t describe your garage. But if you find yourself working in there on a regular basis, why shiver in the cold? Installing heating systems in garages can give reliable, comfortable heat -- without the hassle, danger and cold spots of space heaters. Follow these steps to get started:

Skip the Easy Shortcut

Simply routing a heating duct in into your garage might seem like a great idea … but it’s not. Do so, and you could end up sucking pollutants into your house. At the very minimum, talk to an HVAC expert before attempting this.

Measure

You’ll need to know the exact square footage of your garage -- don’t estimate. The formula for calculating square footage is length multiplied by width. There are also gadgets that will measure this for you.

Insulate

Insulation is a must for any heating system. If you get mild winters, a good insulation job alone might keep you comfortable. Put at least six inches on walls, ceiling and the door, with a minimum R-value of 19.

Choosing Between Heating Systems

 There are two popular options:

1. Forced air: A wall-mounted heater that blows hot air from a vent will provide the closest experience to your comfortable living room. A 45,000 BTU residential unit ($200-$700) should adequately heat a 400 square foot, two-car garage. They can run on electricity, propane or natural gas.

  • Electric models usually cost the most to run, but they have fewer ventilation concerns and may help lower humidity to protect expensive tools from rusting.
  • Propane models require you to have a separate tank that must be filled when low.
  • Natural gas (delivered to your home or via your house’s gas line) is often the most economical choice.

A drawback to this type of heating system is that forced air heaters keep dust airborne. That’s harmless to some DIYers, but a deal-breaker for many.

2. Infrared: These models radiate heat to objects (like the furniture and floor), rather than warming the air. You’ve seen them in bus stops. They make closer objects hotter (you included), so they need plenty of space. While forced-air units can be installed almost anywhere, infrareds must go in the back of the garage, at least seven feet from the floor and three feet from any objects. They can also run on electricity, propane or natural gas.

Infrared is a bad choice if you have a cluttered garage or if you actually keep your car in there. They’re also costlier than forced air heaters -- a low-intensity, 30,000 BTU residential infrared unit for a two-car garage can run around $1,000 -- but they usually cost less to use.

One huge perk is that infrareds don’t kick up dust. That can be key if you do a lot of painting, staining or woodworking in your garage. Also, while forced air units will heat faster, infrareds will keep the temperature more constant if you must open the garage door frequently (because they don’t heat the air).

Other heating options include electric baseboards or panels (cheap to install, usually quite expensive to run), hot-water-heated baseboards (often expensive to install), wood stoves (more effort, take up lots of floor space) and solar (not practical in all areas).

Tap an HVAC expert. Installation can mean working with a gas line, electrical supply or ventilation ports -- and mistakes here could mean serious injuries … or worse. If you’re an advanced DIYer, you’ll likely have the skills to follow the heater’s directions and do the install yourself (saving a few grand). But you need to follow all local codes, and those might prohibit doing the gas-line work yourself. So always get a walk-through with an HVAC contractor before you begin installing a garage heating system.

Double Duty: Setting up Your Garage as a Workstation

You’ve been thinking about your garage for a long time now. In your mind, you’ve been planning a transformation of the space into a workshop-slash-carport.  Well, we’re here to help you turn that dream into reality, as we walk you through the process of creating a double duty garage -- part man cave, part parking spot.

Planning

It’s important to speak to a professional electrician to determine what upgrades you might need to the electrical, lighting and ventilation systems based on the kind of workshop you want. In addition, you might want to consider having a slop sink installed. Not only will you be able to wash your hands, you’ll also be able to wash tools, car parts and paint brushes, and keep harmful chemicals away from your living space. And remember, garages can get cold, so at the very least, you’ll want a space heater or two.

You’re going to need to see what you’re doing, and run-of-the-mill garage lighting isn’t going to cut it. Strategically placed fluorescent are a great option. But don’t just put them on the ceiling -- adding wall-mounted fixtures will greatly improve the situation.

For lighting on a tight budget, consider portable high-beam work lights (the ones on hooks) or flood lights on tripod-like stands. These can allow for bright, focused light, but their cords snaking along the floor can be dangerous. Be sure to keep them coiled up and stored away when not in use.

Clean House

If you’re like most Americans, your garage is a storage space for more than just your car. It’s time to clear out the boxes of junk, old Christmas decorations or clothing that hasn’t fit you in decades. The most space you clear out, the bigger a workshop you can have.

After you’ve cleared the space of clutter, you’ll probably notice a filthy garage floor that could use a good scrubbing. Now would be a good time to get out your bucket and scrub brush.

A heavy-duty grease-cutting cleanser diluted with water should do the trick. And don’t forget the walls and ceiling. You might even consider a fresh coat of paint to freshen things up.

Maximize Storage

You’re going to want as create as much practical storage space as possible so you can have a comfortable work space -- and enough room to get in and out of your car. A great way to do that is to implement clever storage ideas -- from modular wall shelving and hooks to hanging tools or bins from the ceiling.

Pegboards are a classic method for storing tools on walls. They’re inexpensive and easy to install by yourself as a means of displaying your tools while keeping them within easy reach.

No workshop is complete without a workbench. Whether you build one yourself or buy one, think about a rolling workbench or one that folds up on the wall when you’re not using it.

Installing cabinets above your workbench adds great extra storage for larger power tools. Consider plastic drawers or bins along with glass jars to keep smaller tools and hardware organized. Hint: recycle your peanut butter and jelly jars as a storage idea while being “green.” Designing your own tool recycling station will help keep things organized and powered up for your next project. 

Car Scratch Repair

You could pay a professional hundreds of dollars for a car scratch repair, or to remove swirl marks and other blemishes from the body of your car. Or you could make the fixes yourself and use the money you save on weekly car washes, which will go a long way toward preventing scratches from happening in the first place.

Start by giving your car a thorough cleaning with soap and water. Once it’s dry, take note of any imperfections. Light scratches and swirl marks -- those light circular scuffs that are often caused by dirty cloths or poorly-maintained drive-through car washes -- can usually be treated with an over-the-counter scratch remover. While effective, these products can take some getting used to, so try them out first on an inconspicuous area of the car, such as a door jamb.  

You can also remove light scratch marks with a combination of sandpaper and rubbing compound, which requires slightly more finesse Start by cleaning the surface, then gently sand down the scratch with ultrafine sandpaper (2000 to 3000 grit), available at auto parts stores. To help the sandpaper glide smoothly over the scratch, dip it into a cup of water with a few drops of dish detergent. Continue sanding in light, short strokes until the scratch is just about gone. Then dry the area and buff it with rubbing compound and a soft terry cloth towel.

Deeper scratches, where the underlying metal is exposed, will need to be repainted. The first step is to determine your car’s color code. Check your manual for the location of the color identification plate, which could be under the hood or under the trunk carpet. Once you’ve identified the code, call around to car dealerships and auto parts stores in the area for one that sells touch-up paint in your car’s color. The paint typically comes in a small bottle with a built-in applicator brush. A small, pointed artist’s brush can also be used to cover a scratch by applying tiny dabs of paint.

Give the paint a day or so to dry. Then it’s time to polish, which will give your car a high shine and minimize any fine surface scratches that accumulate. Electric buffers sell for around $40, but they can cause marks or even burns if you don’t know what you’re doing. Try an old T-shirt or microfiber cloth instead and use a polish that’s safe for clear-coat finishes, which most cars have today.

As for larger dents, those are tough to tackle on your own. You should consider paying a pro for a so-called “paintless” dent removal, whereby dents are massaged out from the inside with special tools. Removing a golf-ball-sized dent might set you back $50. Results vary with skill, so get a referral from someone who’s used the service before. 

Once your car has its showroom sheen back, take steps to prevent future scratches and imperfections. If you do the recommended weekly washing by hand, use a clean sponge or sheepskin mitt, rather than an abrasive cloth; dry the car with a clean chamois or terrycloth towels. Never drag objects across the body, since even something as soft as a paper grocery bag can lead to scratches.                              

A Guide to Tool Storage

That infamously capricious black hole -- the one that gleefully sucks a single sock from the dryer and relocates car keys to the top of the refrigerator -- also has an appetite for tools. Few things are more frustrating than searching for that screwdriver that was lying in plain sight just yesterday.

The solution to this problem lies in organization and planning. Expert woodworkers devise tool storage systems that allow them to work efficiently … and possibly avoid uncouth fits of rage. Systems vary, but most integrate variations on similar themes.

A word of caution: There’s a fine line between organization and obsession. The best methods of tool storage blend common sense and simplicity.

It’s a Plan, Stan

Think about layout if building a shop from scratch. What tools do you use most frequently? Are they within easy reach of your workbench? Where should you put infrequently used tools? Sketch out a rough design, start pounding nails and refine as necessary.

Mix and Match

Successful woodworkers usually combine tool storage systems. Wall-mounted pegboards are unobtrusive and permit you to find tools with a glance. The same is true of hook and slat systems, which are especially handy for baskets and bins. Hook and slat systems may be converted into sliding panels several layers deep (think of sliding blackboards). Your mandatory gadgets are up front; lesser-used implements are to the rear.

A Long Shelf Life

You can never have enough friends, money or shelves. Horizontal shelves under your workbench hold lumber (keeping it flat to avoid warping) and medium-sized power tools. Shelves, whether freestanding or built-in, keep bottles of glue, solvents and finishing liquids safe and out of the way. As with pegboards, items on shelves are located visually. For some reason, the top shelf of every shop contains the ubiquitous clock radio.

High-Level Cabinet Meetings

Tool cabinets with slide-out drawers are common … and they’re commonly a mess. Keep specific items in specific drawers and label accordingly. Devote individual drawers to socket sets, chisels, sandpaper or that pack of smokes you’re hiding from your spouse. Place the most important items in the upper drawers.

An expert woodworker in North Carolina salvaged a set of kitchen cabinets and installed them on his shop walls. Behind one door are shelves filled with fastening devices and brackets, behind another are extensions cords and squares. Beyond door #3 lie nails, screws and bolts. All are packaged in plastic containers, conveniently labeled for easy identification.

Don’t Break Up the Band

Tools are like a high-school clique – they prefer each other’s company – and grouping tools is arguably the most important aspect of rational storage. Keep screwdriver sets and wrenches in specific spots, preferably in size order. The same goes for chisels, sockets, hammers and saws. Madness ensues if your screwdrivers and box-end wrenches are distributed hither, yon and under the workbench. Segregate common tools, and replace them in the appropriate spot after each use.

The same goes for drill bits. Spending an hour searching for a 1/4-inch spade bit is no fun. It’s a certainty, in a disorganized shop, that you’ll trip across every hole-saw bit you own before you find it.

Think Outside the Toolbox

Fixtures for tool storage are often fabricated from items around your home. A tie-rack holds a multitude of wrenches. Tin pie plates (cut in half and screwed to a wall) hold saw blades or sanding discs. Coffee cans make excellent hardware bins, as do electrical junction boxes.

A-frame-style racks are popular for clamps, but don’t forget that ceilings play a part in tool storage. My own shop features a heavy wire stretched wall-to-wall and secured by two eye-screws. It’s within easy reach and holds 40 clamps. I’m never in doubt a clamp is close at hand.

Sadly, the same cannot be said for my keys and socks.

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